The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone
Author: Michel Stone
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Immigration / Mexico / Southern US)
Publisher/Publication Date: Hub City Press (3/1/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Okay to liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A Mexican family immigrates to South Carolina, and the painful, tragic experience nearly destroys them.
Reading Challenges: Immigrant Stories
Do I like the cover?: I do, very much. I adore the colors, and the broken ceramic piece is very emotional without being over-the-top.
I'm reminded of...: Keith Cronin, Camille Noe Pagan
First line: Lilia lingered beneath the shade tree and watched her husband leave, though the morning dawned mild, and she had no need yet for the canopy's cool shadows.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is a look at a very timely issue in an emotionally gripping way.
Why did I get this book?: I love books about timely topics, like immigration, and I was intrigued by the cover.
Review: I had a really tough time writing this review, and I can't exactly place my finger on why. I love novels that tackle tough, timely issues like immigration, so I was excited by Stone's story of a Mexican couple crossing the border and trying to make a home in South Carolina. While reading this book, I was appreciative that Stone didn't whitewash the experiences of Hector and Lilia, but at the same time, I felt some disconnect with their story.
I think, for me, this book didn't feel particularly nuanced, and I can't decide if that's a problem or not. Stone's characters go through absolute hell on their way to the U.S., and the events and experiences she writes about are ones I've seen in documentaries and read about in immigrant testimonies. She's certainly not exaggerating. But I found myself wanting a little more from the story -- more introspection, perhaps, or more voices -- or some space to reflect and chew on what had occurred.
There are some lovely threads in this book about marriage, belonging, and making one's place in the world that I would have liked to see more developed. Hector and Lilia's marriage is understandably strained as they search for their daughter, and I wished that was explored more deeply. The South Carolinian magnolia farmers, Lucas and Elizabeth, were also intriguing characters, and while their distance made sense -- how well did Hector know them? -- I still found myself yearning for their voice in the narrative, especially as they are clearly concerned about Hector and trust him.
In some ways, I was reminded of a John Sayles movie: this book felt like a snapshot of one family's experience with immigration; at the story's end, it was clear there was another beginning. This next bit is possibly a spoiler, so don't read on if you want to be totally surprised by the way the book develops. On a totally childish, knee-jerk level, I really hated how the novel ended. I've seen a few reviews by folks who found it hopeful but I didn't -- I felt a bit like what occurred through the entire book needed to culminate in a different way, and Stone's conclusion left me feeling hollow and sad. It's probably a realistic ending, but it was a little too much reality for me.
This would make a fantastic book club selection as there's so much to discuss, especially for those who love immigrant stories. Like Sarah McCoy's The Baker's Daughter, this book provides an emotional look at immigration in a way that doesn't wholly swing one way or the other politically, allowing readers on any side of the spectrum to find a way in.
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Iguana Tree to one lucky reader. To enter, please fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 4/27. See my interview with Michel Stone for another chance to enter!